Spire Global, a global provider of space-based data, analytics and space services, has unveiled a dark shipping detection solution. This makes it possible to track vessels that manipulate their reported position in order to conceal nefarious activities.

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) on a vessel helps avoid collisions at sea, track global shipping trends and monitor individual vessel activity, but crew members on board can manipulate the system by turning off the transponder to go dark or “spoofing” the AIS to report false positions.

Typically, this is done in order to hide activity that is illegal or could have negative consequences to the shipowner, such as illegal trading, loading or unloading sanctioned goods, or illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Dark shipping can be achieved by spoofing, this image explains  what spoofing is (by Spire)
Spoofing explained (picture: Spire).

Monitoring ships from space

Spire’s near real-time, global geolocation position validation service can uncover suspicious activity and pinpoint a vessel without the need for an approximate location. The applications can be critical to governments, intelligence and security agencies, and nonprofit organisations’ efforts to identify and locate vessels that are breaking international law.

‘For a long time, having the tools to accurately identify and track ships that are attempting to hide their activities or location has been the missing key to preventing sanctions evasion, illegal fishing, human trafficking and many more pressing societal issues,’ says Peter Mabson, CEO, Spire Maritime. ‘Dark shipping detection builds on our breadth of maritime tracking solutions and underscores Spire’s mission to use data that can only be collected from space to improve life on Earth.’

Spire operates the world’s largest multipurpose constellation with more than 100 satellites. The company plans to launch additional products in 2023 for geolocation and identification of dark targets, at sea, on land, and in the air.

Also read: Satellites to measure SOx and NOx emissions from seagoing ships